HC Deb 28 April 1874 vol 218 cc1339-42

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that its object was to increase the fees payable to Returning Officers at Parliamentary elections; for, of late years, the duties thrown upon them had been largely increased, and it would be found that the fees which they were entitled to receive did not sufficiently recompense them for the extra duties imposed upon them. By ancient custom—or what was called the common law of the land—the Returning Officer could make no charge for expenses upon any candidate at a Parliamentary election, in accordance with the assumption that they, as sheriffs of counties and mayors of boroughs, should execute the Queen's writ free of charge, whether to successful or unsuccessful candidates. Not only was it prohibited by the common law to make any such charge, but also by the statute passed in the reign of William III. it was clearly and distinctly laid down that no Returning Officer could make any charge whatever in respect of the election of a Parliamentary candidate. By the 7 & 8 Will. III a penalty of £500 was imposed upon any Returning Officer who made such a charge; and, by the 18 Geo. II, the only charge which could be legally made against any candidate for either a county or a borough was for the erection of booths for polling places, and for clerks to preside in them. That provision was extended to boroughs by the Reform Act of 1832. These were the only charges imposed by statute or by common law on any Member of that House in England. In Ireland, by the Act of 13 Vict., their liabilities were strictly defined, and were fixed at £5 for each booth, and so much per day for each clerk employed in the booths. That state of the subject continued until the Ballot Act of 1872, which enacted that the expenses of conducting the elections should be charged in the same way as the charges hitherto imposed on the candidates. He was sure it was not the intention of the framers of that Act, nor of the House, that the liabilities of the candidates should be increased. But there could be no doubt in the mind of anyone who had gone through a contested election that charges had been made on candidates which were not justified by the law, and which were equally unwarrantable by conscience. His object in introducing the Bill was to do justice to the Returning Officers, and in the Schedule of the Bill he specified the charges which they would be entitled to make, and he proposed that there should be no other charges, unless by the express agreement of the candidate in writing, and that all and such charges should be subject to taxation. He also proposed that the claims made by tradesmen on the Returning Officer should likewise be subjected to taxation. He would then enact that the town clerks in boroughs should assist the mayors; and if necessary, they should receive a slight remuneration for the increased duty which would be cast upon them. That would involve some increase in the rates, but an extremely small one. The Bill provided that the ballot boxes should be those of the municipality. The expenses of school board elections and others showed that a great deal less money was required for Parliamentary elections. The substance of the Bill was contained in the Schedule. He begged to express the hope that the Government would agree to the measure being referred to the consideration of a Select Committee. He thought it was only fair the Returning Officers should have an opportunity of being heard, and besides there were minute details which could only be settled by a Committee. He had followed the example of the Act that regulated such matters in South Australia, where the charges were all specified in the Schedule, and where the expenses of candidates were only a third or a fourth of what they were here. The whole question of the expenses in connection with elections would afterwards have to be dealt with. We had got rid of corrupt practices; but a system had been growing up in connection with the employment of agents which was almost equally objectionable, and made the expenses almost as great. He hoped this measure would be accepted as an instalment of a greater one, which he would not shrink from endeavouring to carry.


agreed that the Bill was, in its main provisions, a very useful one; but there were several provisions in it which made him heartily support the proposal to refer it to a Select Committee. The third clause appeared to him to he very objectionable. It provided that the Returning Officer should he entitled to demand a deposit from any candidate before the election, and in case that deposit was not made he should be able to return the other candidates. It was no light burden cast upon the town clerks of large boroughs when Parliamentary contests took place. Though it might only happen once in four or five years, the municipality of which he was the officer might not be willing to pay for these extra services. He thought he should be placed in the position of an under-sheriff, and paid directly and honourably for his services. He thought the present Bill proceeded on wrong lines altogether in recognizing the liability of candidates to pay these expenses, and he would suggest that it was a mistake to throw upon candidates the expense of the Returning Officer. It seemed to him that it was the office of the State to provide the machinery by which the electors might exercise their franchise.


said, he did not wish to oppose the second reading of the Bill, or that it be referred to a Select Committee; but he thought the power proposed to be conferred on the Returning Officer to exact a deposit from the candidate was a most objectionable one. If such a clause were passed, it would have a very injurious effect upon a considerable number of candidates. He hoped they would he heard in their own behalf before the Committee.


said, he did not object to the second reading, as it was intended that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. It must, however, he clearly understood that the question as to whether candidates should pay their own expenses was not to be imported into the inquiry of the Committee upstairs.

Motion agreed to.

And on May 5, Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. SPENCER WALPOLE, Sir HENRY JAMES, Mr. HUDDLESTON, Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT, Sir CHARLES RUSSELL, Mr. DILLWYN, Viscount CRICHTON, Mr. WENTWORTH BEAUMONT, Mr. COOPE, Mr. DOWNING, Mr. STAVELEY HILL, Sir COLMAN O'LOGHLEN, Sir CHARLES MILLS, Sir EDWARD COLEKROOKE, Mr. MACARTNEY, Mr. LOCHE, Mr. CAMERON of LOCHIEL, and Mr. NORWOOD:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Seven to be the quorum.